FALMOUTH – Once upon a time there was a little boy who loved to dance. Ten years later, Falmouth teen Darien Santos’s advanced skills will be on display this weekend as he performs one of the principal roles in Turning Pointe Dance Studio’s production of “The Sea Captain’s Nutcracker,” the Cape Cod version of the classic ballet, to be performed this weekend in Barnstable.
Darien was around 4 years old when he started taking classes at Turning Pointe Dance Studio in Falmouth. As he remembers it, he developed a passion for it at a very young age.
When he was about 6—which was also, perhaps not coincidently, the first time he was cast in “The Sea Captain’s Nutcracker,”—he remembers he really liked to dance.
“I remember I thought standing on stage was an amazing experience and I would totally do it again,” he recalled.
His older sister, Ariana, was studying ballet at the time, and he decided he wanted to be a professional dancer. He would watch videos of dancers with his sister and try certain challenging ballet steps like a pas de bourree. He remembers his sister scolding him because he was not a skilled enough dancer at the time to do the step, but also she would teach him. “She’d show me things I wanted to learn,” he said.
A couple years later, his teacher, Cathy Lemay, noticed his talents.
“When Darien was in my third grade class he would choreograph dances for the kids in the class during indoor recess!” Lemay, who is playing the grandmother in this year’s Sea Captain’s Nutcracker, said.
Darien has been cast in various roles in the local Nutcracker production over the years, having gone from playing Fritz, the younger brother of Clara, to being in the corps de ballet.
But this year is different.
Now just 14, Darien will be performing the role of the Young Sea Captain in the ballet, which includes a challenging pas de deux, a duet with the dancer playing Clara.
In September, Darien found out that he was cast in the coveted role.
He remembers he and his family were getting ice cream. “I opened the email and I screamed like a girl for a good couple of minutes. I was hoping for this part,” he said with a smile as he remembered the moment.
Usually Laura Sciortino, the Artistic Director of Turning Pointe Dance Studio in Falmouth and director of the show, casts a professional dancer to play the part of the young sea captain. But this year, she decided to cast Darien.
“There is absolutely no reason that Darien could not handle this role. He is perfect for it. He is strong, young, and a great partner,” Sciortino said.
Darien has matured greatly in recent years, including in his height. He estimated has grown about two feet in the past couple of years, to 5 feet 10 inches tall.
Sciortino agreed that Darien has changed. “In addition to height for sure he has matured greatly. I would say just a year or two ago he became much more serious and started to work a lot harder.”
Sciortino also praised his dancing. “Darien is a great dancer. He has an amazing balone.” In ballet, “balone” means bounce and refers to being able to jump high.
But Sciortino said, Darien has another quality that is very important to his dancing.
“I would say one of his greatest strengths is that he has a natural talent for partnering work. Not every male dancer is a good partner. Just because a male dancer might be an amazing technician that doesn’t necessarily mean he is an amazing partner. Darien seems to have a natural ability for being a dance partner and it shows in his pas de deux work. He is extremely sensitive and aware of his dance partners needs. He gets her on her leg and on balance very quickly. It is the male ballet dancer’s goal to make the ballerina look good and feel comfortable and I would say he does just that. Girls are able to do fantastic pirouettes with him.
“He is also very strong and is very good at lifts. This shows in the grand pas de deux with Clara in The Sea Captain’s Nutcracker magical snow scene. Darien is doing some of the pas de deux choreography better than some of the professional men we have hired in the past,” she said, referring to the challenging duet piece.
Sciortino said having male ballet teachers at Turning Pointe has help to foster Darien’s passion for dance and Darien agreed.
One of the men playing the older sea captain is Darien’s dance teacher, Yves de Boutelier, who has had a distinguished career in dance in Europe and the United States. Darien said. “It’s an honor to be a mini him because I look up to him. Yves has danced all over the world.”
Returning the compliment, de Boutelier said, “Darien is a very happy young man who gives everything he has to his dance training. He never shies away from corrections and always tries to apply what is asked of him. He is a wonderful, lovable student to work with.”
One special aspect of dance for Darien is being surrounded by his good friends, many of whom he has grown up with in the dance studio.
As a child, Darien said, he used to look up to the older dancers and admire their beauty and skill as dancers.
“Since I was young, there have been beautiful dancers who I look up to. Now they are all my friends and they’re still beautiful dancers and I still look up to them,” he said.
The bonds of friendship are a big part of dance, Sciortino said, and Darien is the kind of person that everyone likes. “He is sweet, helpful, welcoming and accepting of all friends. He has been at Turning Pointe since he was 4 so this is his family. I know first hand that the friendships you develop in the dance studio are the friends you’ll have forever. There is nothing like being surrounded by people that share the same passions. They just get you,” she said.
But with all his maturity and strong dancing, Darien is still just 14 years old.
Sciortino said, “Sometimes my staff and I forget how young Darien really is. We are hard on him. We see potential in him and we want to bring out the very best in him. He still has some time to decide if ballet and dance is the direction he wants to take as a career. But if he stays focused and continues to work hard I feel confident that he will succeed in his goals.”
Darien said he wants to continue to dance. “I’m trying really hard to build my dance life to become a professional dancer. I hope I can do that. That would be a dream of mine,” he said.
Shows for The Sea Captain’s Nutcracker are Saturday, November 24, at 2pm and 6pm; Sunday, November 25, at 2pm at Tilden Arts Center at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. Tickets are $25 for adults, and $16 for children aged 2 to 10 and seniors over 65 years old. Tickets can be purchased online at turningpointedancestudio.org.
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